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Residents should speak out about planned 'Chugach State parking lot'

Barbara Winkley

The draft Chugach State Park Management Plan has been released for comments. It includes State Parks' proposal to bulldoze a two and one-half mile road from Glen Alps along the south fork of Campbell Creek to a huge parking lot at Upper Huffman.

The proposed road includes very large parking lots between Glen Alps and Upper Huffman suitable for motor homes, snowmachine trailers, and horse trailers. There will be a total of six new parking lots, plus the existing lots at Upper Huffman and Glen Alps, and there will be a major new bridge across Little Campbell Creek. There will be more than 250 new parking spaces added to an area that is already overcrowded and overused. The current access at Glen Alps will apparently be abandoned, and that parking lot will be converted to a day-use area with shelters and used for overflow parking.

Parks has not adequately analyzed or considered the impact of this destructive project. Sultana Drive will become the only access to the most popular trailhead in the park. Unlike the current access where few houses are passed, the new traffic on Sultana will pass many houses and have a significant impact on the neighborhood. Many of the cars and trucks will be towing large trailers, and Sultana will need to accommodate motor homes as well.

The road will be exceptionally expensive to construct and maintain. For years, the park has not had the money in winter to plow and keep open even the small trailheads along the Seward Highway. There is no reliable estimate of the road's initial cost, or the cost of annual maintenance, but the price tag will be millions. Where does the park expect to get the money for maintenance of this mega-project?

The Management Plan does not describe at all how the impacts of the new road will be managed or what the rules will be. Can motor homes be used for camping along the road at the parking areas? What facilities will be provided for them? Will the number of trails open for use by equestrians be increased? How will that impact the park? How will the increase in visitors affect the park and at what cost? Will the road affect hunting and wildlife viewing opportunities? Has the park considered that the new road will be virtually adjacent to the snowmachine corridor and effectively eliminate almost half of the area now open for snowmachining? These and other obvious impacts have not been considered. Will this wilderness disturbance affect the integrity of Anchorage's watershed?

The enabling legislation for the park had as its principal goals protecting the park's unique scenic values and providing for public display of local wildlife. The proposed road conflicts with both goals. It would cut through the middle of a scenic, sub-alpine valley that is home to a great variety of wildlife. The existing road, plus the new road, will create a noose of roads around critical habitat, will compromise access to traditional moose rutting areas in the upper valley, and will disrupt patterns of wildlife movement for feeding. In addition, the road will be an eyesore when viewed from up-valley or any of the many peaks in the area. The road is not consistent with the goals set for the park when the park was established.

If parking really needs to be increased for those few days when the Glen Alps lot is full, shouldn't alternatives to paving part of the park be considered? There are options to this unnecessary destruction of wilderness and wildlife habitat.

Many tourists just want to visit the lookout, so maybe a shuttle bus could be used like the one at the zoo. I personally would like to see another parking lot built under the existing one. It could be closed off during the winter months to reduce maintenance costs. A separate group is working to obtain 40 acres just across the road from the existing parking lot.

Visitors come to Alaska to experience these wilderness areas so close to Anchorage. I have taken many visitors both from the Lower 48 and overseas hiking in this area, and without exception, they have said, this was the most enjoyable experience of their visit to Alaska.

We need to ask ourselves if we want to preserve Chugach State Park.

To view the draft management plan, get additional project information and learn how to submit a comment click here. Comments on State Parks’ road proposal and any other aspect of the draft Management Plan should be made by October 31, 2011.

Barbara Winkley is a 44-year resident of Alaska and lives in Rabbit Creek. She worked for the first planners of Chugach State Park during the summer of 1971, gathering environmental and historical data.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch. Alaska Dispatch welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.